Language Development | SIL, Mahidol University and UNESCO
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About the Conference

Background and Purpose
Asia is home to over 2400 of the world's languages, many of which are considered endangered. In addition to facing the loss of their linguistic and cultural heritage, many ethnic minority communities lack access to relevant education in a language that they speak and understand. In spite of numerous obstacles, an increasing number of minority groups, in collaboration with universities, NGOs and government agencies, are taking action to develop and protect their languages and cultures. They are devising writing systems, producing reading materials, and establishing education programs that enable learners to build a strong educational foundation in their home language before "bridging" to a national or majority language.

The purpose of this conference was to provide a forum in which practitioners engaged in language development, language revitalization and/or multilingual education programs could interact with government officials, academics and others who are interested in supporting appropriate education and development in ethnic minority communities. The conference was jointly sponsored by SIL International, the Institute of Language and Culture for Rural Development of Mahidol University, Salaya (Thailand), and UNESCO.

Conference Participants
The 311 conference participants came from over thirty countries. Participants included members of ethnic minority groups, government officials, academics and members of national and international NGOs who are working in language development and education in ethnic minority communities.

Content of the Conference
The conference was composed of eight plenary and seventy-five parallel presentations, two policy sessions and one working group session.

Plenary Sessions - These sessions focused on issues of language planning and multilingual education in multilingual contexts, as well as on the broader (and more controversial) issue of language planning in the context of national development.
Parallel Presentations - These presentations focused on language development and multilingual education programs in a number of countries, including Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Mongolia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Iran, Russia, Papua New Guinea, Malawi, Kenya, Peru and Canada. The presentations were divided into several general categories relating to language research, orthography development, language development (process and programs), multilingual education in both formal and non-formal education systems and related issues.

This included the following:
Conducting language surveys
Developing writing systems/orthographies
Implementing language development and language revitalization programs
Implementing multilingual education programs in formal and non-formal education systems
Developing literature in minority languages
Linking local programs to opportunities for on-going education
Developing networks and partnerships to promote sustainability
Policy Sessions - Individuals engaged in language and education policy and planning were invited to attend two one-hour "Policy Sessions" led by Dr. Sheldon Shaeffer, Director of UNESCO's Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education (Bangkok). The purpose of the sessions was to provide a forum for discussing issues related to language planning and multilingual education in their countries.
Working Group Sessions - The afternoon of the 3rd and final day of conference was set aside for working group discussions. Participants from the same country or same region met together to review what they had learned through presentations and interactions and discussed possible avenues for cooperating to support minority languages in their areas.

Conclusion
Based on interactions during the conference, on the participants' evaluations and on correspondence since November, the conference sponsors are satisfied that they achieved their objective of creating opportunities-often for the first time-for dialogue among the different groups engaged in language development, language revitalization and multilingual education in Asia. Several countries have reported plans for follow-up workshops and seminars and a number of government officials and academics have reported a new awareness of the situation facing minority language groups in their own countries and the need to support language development and multilingual education programs among those groups.

Respectfully submitted,
Susan Malone and Suwilai Premsrirat
Co-Chairs, Conference Organizing Committee


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Chong discuss kinship terms

Members of the Chong group discuss kinship terms


The conference was composed of eight plenary and seventy-five parallel presentations, two policy sessions and one working group session.

Plenary Sessions
Parallel Presentations
Policy Sessions
Working Group Sessions

Copyright © 2004 SIL International, Institute of Language and Culture for Rural Development - Mahidol University, and UNESCO Bangkok